“What’s your favorite wine?”
It’s a common question I get, especially for some reason during haircuts. It’s an icebreaker I guess, at least for the person asking the question. Answering it … well that’s a different story.
For years I’d quickly race through my mental file cabinet, only to pull out some obscure gem I had in a weird corner of Italy or Portugal, then talk for ten minutes (as I’m prone to doing) about this rare wine made with a rare variety in an ancient land, usually watching as any interest the person I was talking to had in me any my opinions slip away, their face melting into a series of nods and glances of escape from the boredom of a wine geek. Hey, you asked!
Lately I answer it as a trifecta: Good wine, Great wine, and Interesting wine. I’ve found this to be a pretty interesting way to think about our favorite beverage, and it has successfully held the attention of the last three hair stylists who asked the big question. So there must be something there. Here ya go.
Good Wine is all about inherent quality (which is of course subjective) but also a comparative ranking versus others. In other words by saying “that’s a good wine” you’re already saying there are others that are lesser wines. A Good Wine is about satisfaction, about solid bang for the buck, about predictably and consistency. A Good Wine serves the needs of the purchaser. There are tons of Good Wines out there, many of them from brands you’d recognize. The best Good Wine I’ve had in the last week is Peirano Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, purchased at Thomas Liquors. Man was that good, and I will be buying it again.
Great Wine is the next step up, with higher price tags, more expectations, and more bang for the buck. It’s exponential in greatness: a $30 wine should not be just three times better than a $10 wine. It should be more than that, and a Great Wine achieves the goal. A Great Wine speaks of a place, shows a terroir, allows the personality of the winemaker to shine, and causes pause and consideration. A Great Wine is not one you purchase or drink on a regular basis, but it’s one that you will reliably suggest to others because it has broad appeal. A Great Wine is a wine that brings wine novices into the realm of curiosity that propel them toward being cork dorks. The best Great Wine I’ve had lately is La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva 2007, enjoyed at Restaurant Alma (and it went well with every single course).
The last category is the Interesting Wine, which is a different animal entirely. Interesting Wine is not meant to be discussed in terms of good or great. Interesting Wine is not about comparisons to others, or asking if it was worth it. Interesting Wine is about the singular experience of the wine, a checking off of the box to say you’ve had it. Sometimes the wines is odd, weird, stinky, maybe even not quite right. A wine that I would put in the Interesting Wine category is often not one that I would buy a second bottle of, but I’d be very happy with my purchase of the first bottle. The best Interesting Wine I’ve had lately was by Frank Cornelissan of the Etna region of Sicily (here’s a good article to learn more), which was beautifully odd, dynamic, and intriguing. Another recent Interesting Wine was McKinlay Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2015, suggested by Peter Vars at Thomas Liquors. High toned, almost at the edge of the funky/natural wine style, and tiny little production (50 cases if I remember right). Peter called it “Wine with an instruction manual” which is spot on, and a great way to think about this category.
After 20 years of more and more wineries avoiding Interesting and only going for Good or Great to catch the repeat buying consumer, a movement developed for Interesting. The New California wines, the natural wine movement, experimental bottlings and fermentation techniques have all been a part of this. I was presented a wine recently where the sales pitch started with “this wine was made with zero mechanical equipment, stomped by foot and gravity fed through the whole process, no controlled yeast or temperature, and bottled, corked, and labeled by hand.” How was it? Interesting. Am I happy I paid $30 for it? Yes! Would I buy it again? Nope.
This is a big problem for this category, and one that wineries, retailers, and wholesalers are starting to feel. If you make wines that people love but don’t want to buy again, how can your business survive? Can you build a business where your customers only want something they’ve never had before?
Good Wine, Great Wine, and Interesting Wine. Three good categories to divide your purchases into.
And going back to my last haircut, after the stylist got an earful about this topic and hopefully learned far more than she was expecting, she looked at me while smacking on her gum and said “Yeah … I’m a beer drinker.”